I have a thing for hands.
For as long as I can remember, really, as I’m pretty sure it existed even before I noticed it, this affinity for the look and shape of hands.
To my mind, you can tell a lot about a person by their hands. Not specifics, like their favourite colour, or their childhood pet’s name. It’s more of a vague sense of who a person is on the inside; a glimpse into their identity. Our hands grow and change as we do, and while much attention is focused on superficial matters like wrinkles, or gray hairs, there is somehow a kind of personality that resides in hands. They just speak a simple, basic truth – in the way they look, the way they move, the way they touch and the way they feel. They are both an internal and external extension of who we are as individuals.
Much of our public identity can be determined by hands. Fingerprints are unique to every individual human being on the planet, and handwriting analysis has been around for decades, if not longer. On the surface, these things are usually indicators of a person’s name. Beyond that, though, I believe there is much more to be gleaned about an individual’s identity from their hands and handwriting.
I remember watching an episode of Another World, back in the day, and there was a scene with a woman teaching a younger woman how to bake a pie, or something. She insisted that the girl do all of the steps herself, so that her “hands would remember how”. That one sentence struck me with such force of truth that it has stayed with me to this day. I think it was my first understanding of body memories, though I had no idea at the time. Even then, though, I knew that the act of doing something oneself was a far greater teacher than watching someone else do it, and trying to remember the steps later on. Our bodies are capable of storing information that our minds can not. Or, perhaps, our minds are inundated with so much each waking moment that it becomes easier and more accurate to access body memories in some cases, because our brains are working at a different, busier level. Even individual cells have memories, after all, so is it really any wonder that our ability to recollect thoughts, feelings, sensations, and events come from all over our bodies, instead of just that one organ parked upstairs?
Years ago, two things happened relatively close together that got me thinking about hands some more, and in a more specific way. I think that’s around the time that I started to realize my affinity for hands, and to notice things about them on a more regular basis. One was that, when going through some boxes of old school things, I came across a page of something my brother had done in Kindergarten or so. It had been printed on coloured paper, from a ditto machine (remember those delightful-smelling things?!) and there was a boxed-off section wherein he’d been asked to trace one of his hands. Maybe both, actually. I forget.
Anyway, there was a perfect outline – in crayon – of his pudgy little baby boy hand(s) on this sheet of paper, and just looking at it transported me back to a time when he was that wee and adorable. I could almost see him in my mind, the memory of him perfectly captured and preserved in that one (or two) little crayon outline of his hand. It was so powerful I had to, of course, take it to show my mom immediately.
The other thing was an episode of a TV show….or a movie…I don’t even remember what it was, or who was in it, or what was going on. I think there were two friends, both teenaged girls, and one was maybe moving away, or something? But one girl made the other girl trace her hand into her journal – they may have even swapped and traced their hands into each other’s journals – so that no matter where they were, a part of them would always be together. I remember tracing my own hand into my journal and, a page later, my kitty cat, Kate, stood on a page while I was trying to write, so I traced her little gray paw into it, as well. To most, I’m sure it looks like a squiggle on a page, but to me – it’s like I can still see her there, in that outline of her paw. It feels as though part of her is still with me whenever I look at it.
An ex and I had gotten our claspsed hands molded in wax at some point. Right before we broke up, the wax began to melt and we ended up throwing the piece of crap away, along with our relationship. Haha
The next time I would mold my hand with another’s would be with someone I’ve loved much more and for much longer than the wax person, and we did it in plaster this time. It’s surviving temperature changes just fine, over a year later and counting!
I love to create things with my hands. I still wash dishes by hand. I often carry a stone or crystal in my pocket to hold or fidget with whenever I feel the need. It’s comforting to me; grounding. I like textures, and usually find an excuse to make contact with the ones I am drawn to – the bark of a tree, leaf of a plant or flower, anything that looks shiny or soft. haha When sitting on a beach I love the feeling of pushing my hands into the warm sand and feeling its coolness underneath. There is a connection there, a tangible sense of oneness with the earth itself.
I used to have pen pals all over the world, and I have boxes still in my apartment of the letters I received, along with cards and notes from family and friends. There is something more – intimate, and personal – in a handwritten note than in any typed text or email. Now, my penmanship has always been ass, but at the same time, it’s changed very little over the course of my life. I’ve been printing since Grade 8 by choice, but still know mostly how to write in cursive. It’s just much harder to read. Not that my printing is much easier. But anyway. I dated someone once who would, looking back, be remembered as probably the best and healthiest relationship I’ve ever had. For my birthday one year I was given a framed photograph – taken and developed – by that person, and a hand-written card. It was the card that made me tear up, because I realized that it was the first time I’d seen her handwriting. Somehow that made me feel like we were even closer.
Such a little thing. Handwriting. And yet, so much of a person can be seen in it.
I wonder if all this technology and interwebs and cellular service is actually doing more damage than good, in terms of bringing people closer together. I don’t remember the last time I sent a handwritten card or letter to someone…probably the crappy handmade Valentine card I sent to Colorado one year. 😉
I find I still take pen to paper when I am planning something, or writing to sort something out, or what have you. I have several of those old school composition books at home, and at least one more notebook on the go currently. My Guinness World Record attempt and resulting follow-up projects are all contained in one such composition book, as well. All written by my messy – but very me – hand.
I feel like we might be losing something in our insistence upon typing everything now. I think we might be losing some connection, and replacing it with something more surface-level. Something slightly cold and indifferent. You can often see my mood in my handwriting, and yet in typed form, that too is lost. It falls more to the reader to decipher, and that’s where so many misinterpretations begin.
And what if, in addition to losing a bit of connection with the world around us and the other people in it, we are also losing some of our body memories? What if fingertips on keyboards and touchscreens actually retain less than a piece of paper marked by pen, pencil, or a 5-year-old boy’s crayon?
What if we are actually losing a little piece of ourselves, as well?